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Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Search of Stateville -- June 14, 2012

Stateville has been on a strict Level 1 lockdown since Monday while the prison has been searched by a statewide D.O.C. tactical unit. The small army of guards had went cell house to cell house ransacking inmates' cells who were kept handcuffed behind the back for hours in the chow hall. Other areas of the prison were also searched including the yards and certain buildings. From what I have been informed, the extensive search was conducted after a couple of inmates overdosed on heroin and thereafter a cell phone was found. Many prisoners are still putting their cells in order and there is much animosity for the harsh treatment as well as for the loss and damage to their property. I question the wisdom of such a costly large scale sweep of the penitentiary which is minimally productive. However, the disruption of my life is nothing compared to the day to day misery of being incarcerated over 19 years or the resentment I have for the loss of over half my life.

I was not initially aware two prisoners overdosed on heroin over the weekend, and on Monday morning I had no clue why the penitentiary was on lockdown, nor did I care. At the maximum-security prisons of Illinois, lockdowns occur frequently and for various reasons. For most men, a lockdown is not a significant change in routine unless they have an assignment. Furthermore, I personally did not plan to leave the cell at all because of what I was told was being served for lunch and dinner. My indifference changed somewhat after hearing rumors about the two men in D House who were taken to the hospital, as well as the cell phone. Based on this information, I assumed Internal Affairs would investigate the matter. I also speculated there may be drug testing and many cell searches, but was uncertain to what extent the administration would react.

Monday was a particularly hot day with temperatures exceeding 90F. Prisoners yelled out from their cages for guards to pass out ice, but none was forthcoming. The heat was not accompanied with humidity and did not bother me. I went about my day as I normally would including my intense one hour exercise routine after chewing a couple of Ultrams. I had planned to work out when my cellmate left to the law library, but due to the lockdown, he was trapped in the cell with me. To keep air circulating, I turned my fan on high and directed it toward myself and out the cell. I also put on a heavy layer of anti-perspirant and exercised as close to the bars as I could. Despite these accommodations, my cellmate was not happy and let me know so after I was finished. In fact, the grumpy old man had a litany of complaints.

Bobby was angry that I had worked out while he was in the cell on such a hot day. He asked me if I happened to notice it was close to 100 degrees and then began complaining I did not use disinfectant when I wiped off the front area of the cell where I had dripped sweat. I also have not been scrubbing out the sink with disinfectant after I use it. I use the sink sometimes 50 times a day to brush my teeth, wash my hands, face, cups, bowls, fill my bottle with water, etc. I was not going to wash the basin repeatedly throughout the day. I also heard about how I did not turn his box around the proper way after washing the floor and improperly stacked his clothes he had on the box. He also said I acted like he was a fixture in the cell and not a person. I certainly wish he was so I may have a single man cell and not have to deal with him at all. I got the impression "Old Gangster Bobby" was trying to test me to be master of the cell. Therefore, in a strong tone of voice and an aggressive stance, I let him know I was more than willing to settle this dispute on a level he did not want to go to. Although while I washed up naked in the back of the cell, I thought he may attack me, but later he was overly friendly.

During the evening, I spoke to my new neighbor Matt who was formerly Mertz's cellmate. Because Matt is a Level E, he must be moved to a different cell every 90 days. Unfortunate, I thought, that he was not moved into my cell, or better yet that he and I swapped cells. Matt is a Caucasian man in his mid-40's. He pled guilty to a murder in an open plea and was sentenced to life without parole. He has been incarcerated for 24 years and since he was 19. Since he has been next door, I have spoken to him a few times at the cell bars. On Monday, he offered to loan me any of the cassette tapes he owned, but his taste in music pre-dated mine by a decade. I did take a Led Zeppelin tape from him, however.

Tuesday morning, I thought the day was going to be like any other on lockdown, but inmates altered this assumption when they began shouting "Orange Crush in B House!" B and C Houses are adjacent to each other and men who live toward the other unit can see the walk outside its back door. Not long thereafter I heard more shouts about a truck which pulled up besides the door and was being loaded with bags of confiscated property. Prisoners then began to talk about how the cell house was being stripped clean of everything except the plumbing. Although those were rumors we were to be pillaged next, the counselor was in the building making rounds and typically the Orange Crush only does one cell house a day. For precautionary reasons, though, I looked through my property boxes to see if I had any contraband. The SORT Unit has a different interpretation of what an inmate is allowed to have. They will regularly throw out legitimate property along with the unapproved.

At about 11 a.m. I began to get ready for my cell workout. I put on my shorts and gym shoes and wrapped my T-shirt around my forehead like a bandana. Before stretching out, I filled my bottle with water not only to make sure I had plenty to drink after exercising, but to see if the water had been turned off. The Orange Crush always turns off the water before they rush a cell house to prevent prisoners from flushing contraband. However, on this day they did not follow standard procedure and when I went to the cell bars I could see an enormous contingent of guards in full tactical gear and their infamous bright orange jumpsuits walking quickly down the walk in front of the cell house. Prisoners yelled out "Orange Crush on the walk!" and moments later "Orange Crush in the building!" as the tactical team stormed through the back door and ran up flights of stairs to every gallery.

From the cell bars, I watched guards rush down 4 gallery and two stopped at my cell. One was a large white man with a slight accent which may have been Polish. I was unable to identify his country of origin because he said very little. He was accompanied surprisingly by a woman who did most of the talking. She told me I could not go out in shorts and both my cellmate and I had to be dressed in state blues. I undressed until I was only in socks and boxers and then asked the man if they were conducting strip searches. He gestured for me to just get dressed after feeling if there was anything in the pockets of my pants and shirt I had placed on the bars, but the woman insisted they had to do a complete strip search. Thus, I took off my remaining clothing and although the woman initially watched me, she apparently became a little bashful and looked away. I was not an exhibitionist at all but I had a good physique and was not ashamed or embarrassed.

Once dressed, I switched places with my cellmate who was standing in the back of the cell. He was strip searched as well, but I noticed the female guard did not want to see any of my disheveled old cellmate with a few teeth and went to the cell next door. When she returned, she saw Bobby kicking aside his boots and putting his gym shoes on instead. The guard told him he must wear state issued clothing and if he had boots, he had to wear them. My cellmate mumbled something about his boots not fitting him and continued to tie up his gym shoes which he only wears on visits. I tend to believe he did not want to risk losing them to a Orange Crush Unit which seemed to be pilfering a lot of property. Before an argument ensued, the female guard was distracted by the commotion next door. The guard in front of our neighbor's cell was shouting at someone, "What are you doing? Don't move!" and then, "Stand up against the wall!" I did not learn what this was about until later.

After the galleries of prisoners on the floors above us had filed out of the cell house, the doors on 4 gallery were opened. When my cellmate and I came out, we were told to face the cell bars until an order came over the guard's radio for them to escort us out of the building. Outside it was a sunny moderate 80 degrees, and I was glad because on prior occasions I recalled mass searches being done in frigid or rainy weather. On the walk, prisoners were told to line up in twos. Every now and then a guard would shout, "No talking!" and "Face forward!" although everyone was already lined up orderly and there was no talking. It was actually odd to have a silent movement line of prisoners at Stateville. I could actually hear the birds chirping it was so quiet. Unfortunate that prisoners would not voluntarily be quiet, I thought.

A great number of guards walked with the movement lines to the chow hall or stood as security. Through the tunnel, where no guard with a rifle in the gun tower could overlook us, was a gauntlet of guards standing side by side with batons in their hands. All of the guards were dressed in bright orange jumpsuits with black helmets, body armor, leather gloves and boots. I noticed nearly all of them were Caucasian and it was obvious they did not work at Stateville or live in the Chicago metro area. This tactical team was made up of men and a few women from prisons downstate. However, once in the chow hall, I did notice a couple of Stateville guards suited up.

After inmates were seated and locked in the chow hall, they were allowed to socialize. It was unusual how much latitude prisoners were given during the time we waited for the cell house to be searched. Typically, there is no talking or movement of any kind, let alone walking around, stretching, or going to another table to sit. I was also surprised how men were allowed out to use the toilet and how medical needs were catered to. In years past, guards did not care if you pissed in your pants or keeled over with a heart attack. Any complaints, furthermore, were usually dealt with a beating or a blow to the head. I also recall how the guard dogs would lunge or bark at prisoners and they were treated with much hostility. Even the guards who lined the tunnel and elsewhere did not have scowls or intimidating demeanors. They almost stood at attention like statues. I wondered if over the years, there has been a slow change of policy, new administrators with different perspectives had taken over, or the difference was simply due to the fact no staff were assaulted to motivate this search.

Sitting next to me was my neighbor, whom guards were shouting at earlier. He explained to me he had forgotten to get rid of his device for heating water. Although the guards were at his bars watching him he, attempted to discreetly take it and while feigning to get a drink of water flushed the contraband. Despite the yells for him not to move, he did so anyway. He told me he did not care if the guards became upset but he did not want to go to Segregation for something paltry. Nearly every man in the maximum-security prisons of Illinois makes something or does something to heat up water for coffee, tea, or meals. In medium-security prisons, men are allowed hot pots, but it is considered too dangerous for those at places like Stateville.

I turned around with my back against the table to see "The Elephant." I have nicknamed the big fat Greek man who lives on my gallery after that animal because he somewhat reminds me of one. He was also sitting with his back to the table and his huge gut hung out, but that was not the only thing. He had forgotten to zip up his pants. Fortunately, although he was called the Elephant, he had a tiny penis like most fat people and the only thing coming through his pants was his blue shirt. I brought it to his attention and he said, "So, that is why people are staring at me." The Elephant was in double handcuffs which I could have easily slid underneath my legs to the front but for a fat man this was impossible. I told another prisoner I have nicknamed Squirrel to zip up his fly for him, but he said, "Hell no!" I asked why not, he would have done it for Bullwinkle. I continued to joke with him saying I was sure the elephant would give "the squirrel" a couple of nuts for his trouble.

There was not only a number of overweight prisoners in C House but many who are old and sickly. I noticed a friendly, good humored black man who went by the name "Chub" (short for chubby), slouched over and looking ill. A medical technician was called in to see him as well as some other prisoners. I never learned what was wrong with Chub, but another black man sitting near me who was sweating profusely told me that he suffered from intestinal ulcers. Before the lockdown, he had been at the Health Care Unit on an IV drip for reasons he was unable to articulate to me.

The chow hall was rather crowded and numerous conversations were taking place all around me. Prisoners spoke about the men who overdosed and the rumors they were in critical condition, if not dead. There were also rumors about the cell phone and possibly some shanks being found in E House. Many inmates complained about being in handcuffs behind their backs, especially the longer they were in them. There were complaints about their property being tossed, damaged, or stolen. The Orange Crush guard who continued to shout for prisoners to not speak and look forward was speculated to have short man syndrome. The female med tech who was walking around attending to prisoners was also a topic of conversation. Despite her face and age, a number of inmates expressed interest in having sex with her. During this time, I was looking toward Mertz and considering walking over to him at the front of the chow hall to sit, but there were two obnoxious white men nearby. I cared less to hear them talk as much as those in my vicinity.

Eventually, I moved over to a table near the back wall which had three empty seats. Chase, a/k/a the Squirrel, was sitting, along with his cellmate who was a former firefighter and police officer. No one knows he was a cop, except me and Mertz. I learned about his background in Lake County from reading about his case at the law library. Being a former cop does not bother me, but the information will not be well received by other convicts at Stateville. What interests me more about the man is his case and appeals rather than his employment in the 1980's. There was not a lot of direct evidence supporting his conviction, although he was tried and convicted twice. I suspect the guilty verdicts were based largely on the abuse of his girlfriend prior to her brutal murder, including biting off part of her face.

After John was done complaining to a black man about losing his job at the kitchen, I spoke to him about the ongoing Orange Crush operation. We speculated there was over 300 guards brought in from various prisons in the IDOC. It seemed odd to me no drug testing was done considering the raid was precipitated by two men overdosing. He told me the urine test cups were too expensive to use but this reasoning did not seem sound to me. The cost of the test cups could not come anywhere close to bringing all these specially trained guards from downstate penitentiaries for several days. These men were paid higher wages and I assume their lodging and travel expenses were also paid for. I speculated the cost to be at least $100,000, but could be as high as $300,000. John believed the figure was closer to my higher estimate. Possibly, state officials feel like they are flush in cash after the governor cut Medicaid spending by $1.5 billion and also raised taxes on cigarettes $1 a pack. The state legislature even appropriated money to keep Tamms and Dwight Correctional Centers open, although the bill probably will not be signed by Governor Quinn.

Chase was trying to scratch his back with his hands cuffed behind him. When he learned forward, I put my foot on him and asked him if this was the spot. Chase did not appreciate my assistance but his cellmate thought it was funny. Like many other prisoners in the chow hall, Chase appeared to be in a lot of discomfort from being in the handcuffs so long. I told him if the Orange Crush followed their routine of searching two cell houses a day with a lunch break in between, they should be back to get us before shift change at 3:00. My statement was almost prophetic and soon thereafter a large group of guards came into the center circle of the chow hall.

Eight gallery was in the same chow hall as we were but we were separated by a cyclone fence. I watched as a guard yelled at them to form a line along the wall in order of their cell numbers. Inmates, after being handcuffed for hours and realizing their possessions had been looted and ransacked, were not in a great mood to have orders shouted at them. They did not cooperate as quickly as the man yelling commands wanted, and another guard with a high pressure mace spray gun, which looked similar to a flame thrower, began to aim it at the prisoners. Someone near me said how easily the mace gun could be taken away from him and used against the guards. I also thought it was unwise to have such a weapon in close proximity to unhappy convicts and wondered if it was merely a prop.

On the way back to the cell house, guards once again stood at attention with batons in their hands through the hallway and along the walk. Outside, the single file line was stopped and made into a double line. While standing there, I heard over the guards radio that a prisoner found in possession of a hypodermic needle was to be pulled out. From what I knew, he was the only man in my cell house to be taken to Segregation, except for an inmate who took a piss in the corner of the chow hall. Reportedly, he asked to use the toilet, but for some reason, unlike other men, he was continually told to sit back down and wait. Eventually, he reversed his handcuffs to relieve himself after he could not wait any longer.

Prisoners were brought up the front stairs to their respective galleries on the way back. One of my neighbors, who has trouble walking, lost his balance and fell backwards. I was not able to catch him with my hands behind my back, but I did use by body to prevent him from crashing straight onto the steel steps. His cellmate, who was in crutches and was permitted to keep one hand free, tried helping him up, but guards yelled at us to keep moving. The Orange Crush squad was trained to secure inmates in their cells as quickly as possible. It was during mass movement lines that there was the greatest potential for violence and retaliation.

The Orange Crush probably were rightfully concerned about angry inmates when I began to see the wreckage they left behind. It looked like a class 4 hurricane had swept through C House. Cell after cell I passed by was in complete disarray. Televisions, fans and radios were untied and left on bunks or the floor. Clothes, books, food and various other items were thrown about or haphazardly put in piles. My cell was not in as bad of shape as others I saw, but upon entering my cell, I noticed my photographs were scattered on my box and a few were on the floor bent. The vast majority of my property was replaceable, but my collection of photos was not. After being unhandcuffed, I carefully rebundled my photos in envelopes, looking from time to time at pictures of my former girlfriend. I have not seen Susanna in years and probably never will again, but I still like to keep a memory of her.

The cell was in such great disorder that I was not certain where to begin first. Surprisingly, guards had left me the 3 beef burritos I had made and placed in a plastic container as a post work-out meal. I ate two of them while I surveyed the damage to the cell and made a plan for reorganizing my property. I noticed guards had taken everything off the walls. All my hooks, pegs, and screws were gone. The mirror and roll of toilet paper were taken down as well as my cellmate's television which he was busy retying to a vent on the upper back corner of the cell. Inside my property boxes, I found that a bundle of wire I used to gain radio reception was taken, as well as a number of my jars. I had 20 empty and clean peanut butter jars in which I stored various dry foods such as cereal, rice and mixed nuts.

While reassembling my cell, I heard a number of prisoners complaining about the damage or loss of their property. The Orange Crush had taken pens, markers, all types of containers, stamped envelopes, extra blankets and sheets, mirrors, food, wires and an assortment of other items. Much of the property prisoners were not technically allowed to have, but there were also many things which should not have been confiscated. After hearing my cellmate and Matt tell me all their pens had been taken, I gave them each one. However, when I heard the ugly disfigured and obnoxious man nicknamed by prisoners "Quasi Modo" continue to complain loudly about his mirror being confiscated, I yelled down to him, "You knew very well your reflection was dangerous contraband," which drew much laughter from the cell house. Even my cellmate chuckled but I said to him, "What are you laughing about? They took your mirror as well."

I did not finish cleaning, reordering my property, or attaching new hooks, pegs, or screws until well after 8 p.m. I was exhausted and propped a pillow behind my back and went to turn on my TV when I remembered the guards had taken my remote control stick. Most of the cell house was watching game one of the NBA Finals, but I turned on a PBS concert of Pink Floyd in Australia. It was mellow music to listen to after a distressing day. Unfortunately, the station interrupted after every two songs to beg for money and the new lead vocalist sounded terrible. After eating my last remaining burrito and brushing my teeth without disinfecting the sink afterwards, I listened to the Zeppelin tape my neighbor loaned me while I made myself a new remote control stick. My tumultuous day ended with a visit by the feminine, petite nurse I have come to like seeing, if only briefly once or twice a week. I was going to comment about her little green gym shoes which accentuated her elf or Tinkerbell-like appearance, but a lieutenant quickly hovered over her like an overzealous chaperone.

There has been no visitation for prisoners at Stateville all week. Typically, visitation will resume after 48 hours despite the incident, but apparently the administration did not want any unnecessary movement while the Orange Crush were searching the prison. On Wednesday, I was expecting a visit from my father. Since I was unable to see him, I wrote him a 5-page letter. Hopefully, it will reach him by Father's Day, however, I seriously doubt it. If prisoners are allowed to use the phones, I will try calling him on Sunday.

Today, Warden Hardy made rounds in C House. I assume he was listening to the various complaints of inmates in regards to the conduct of the Orange Crush. Because it was a statewide tactical team, I am uncertain if Stateville's warden was in control. Orders for the search may have even come from overseeing IDOC administrators. However, I suppose it was considerate of the warden to listen to prisoners vent, even if he did nothing to resolve their grievances and was not responsible. He was in the cell house for a few hours and went by every cell, including mine. I did not address him because I did not think it was constructive. Plus, every day at Stateville is unpleasant and it seemed petty to mention my peanut butters jars being confiscated or the disarray of my cell. In context to my wretched daily existance and slow death over nearly two decades for a crime I did not commit, the Orange Crush search was a minute injustice.